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← Honeybees from Cape Cod to Mars | Noah Wilson-Rich | TEDxProvincetown

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Showing Revision 43 created 12/04/2018 by Leonardo Silva.

  1. Pollinator decline is a grand challenge
    in the modern world.

  2. Of the 200,000 species of pollinators,
  3. honeybees are the most well-understood,
  4. partly because of
    our long history with them,
  5. dating back 8,000 years ago
  6. to our cave drawings
    in what's now modern-day Spain,
  7. and yet, we know that
    this indicator species is dying off.
  8. Last year alone, we lost 40%
    of all beehives in the United States,
  9. and that number is even higher
    in areas with harsh winters,
  10. like here in Massachusetts,
  11. where we lost 47% of beehives
    in one year alone.
  12. Can you imagine if we lost
    half of our people last year?
  13. And if those were
    the food-producing people?
  14. And I predict that in 10 years,
  15. we will lose our bees.
  16. If not for the work of beekeepers
    replacing these dead beehives,
  17. we would be without foods
    that we rely upon:
  18. Fruits, vegetables,
    crunchy almonds and nuts,
  19. tart apples, sour lemons,
  20. even the food that
    our cattle relies upon to eat -
  21. hay and alfalfa, gone -
  22. causing global hunger, economic collapse,
  23. a total moral crisis across Earth.
  24. And it's going to take an effort
    from every single one of you here
  25. to become what we call
    "citizen scientists,"
  26. to activate all the things
    that you're probably already doing -
  27. Yes, planting flowers, getting beehives,
  28. making bee hotels, habitats
    for those lesser known pollinators,
  29. but beyond that, going a step further,
  30. and adding a data
    collection element to it.
  31. So, I'm going to show you
    how to do this here today,
  32. and I'm going to show you how
    when my team shifted our perspective
  33. away from bees that were dying
  34. and toward maps and looking at
    hot spots for bee health,
  35. and shifting our perspective
    away from honey
  36. as just a sweet, sticky delicious food,
  37. but to a source of information
    that contains a blueprint
  38. for healthy habitat suspended in time
    in the only food that doesn't go bad.
  39. That's where we find the hope
  40. and that's what we'll do together today.
  41. Now, I first started keeping bees
    here in Cape Cod,
  42. right after I finished my doctorate
    in honeybee immunology.
  43. (Laughter)
  44. It was -
  45. (Applause)
  46. So, imagine getting such a degree
    in a good economy -
  47. (Laughter)
  48. And it was 2009 - the great recession.
  49. And I was onto something -
  50. I knew that I could find out
    how to improve bee health.
  51. And that's when word started to spread
    and I came here to Cape Cod
  52. and I realized that this deep connection
  53. that people have to the land here
    is so true and long-standing -
  54. probably because there's so little
    of the land that is here,
  55. we're connected to it.
  56. And so the community on Cape Cod,
    here in Provincetown,
  57. was right for citizen science,
  58. people looking for ways
    to get involved and to help.
  59. And so, we met with people
    in coffee shops.
  60. A wonderful woman named Natalie
    got eight beehives at her home in Truro,
  61. and she introduced us
    to her friend Valerie,
  62. who let us set up 60 beehives at
    an abandoned tennis court on her property.
  63. And so we started testing
    vaccines for bees.
  64. We were starting to look at probiotics.
  65. We called it bee yogurt.
  66. Ways to make bees healthier.
  67. And our citizen science project
    started to take off.
  68. Word started to spread
    and people started to think,
  69. "Wow, I can get bees of my own
    and their little data factory,
  70. that's great!"
  71. Meanwhile, back in my apartment here,
    I was a bit nervous about my landlord.
  72. I figured I should tell him
    what we were doing.
  73. (Laughter)
  74. I was terrified.
  75. I really thought I was going
    to get an eviction notice
  76. which really was the last thing
    we needed, right?
  77. I must have caught him
    on a good day, though,
  78. because when I told him what
    we were doing and how we started
  79. our non-profit urban
    beekeeping laboratory,
  80. he said, "That's great!
    Let's get a beehive in the back alley."
  81. I was shocked!
  82. I was completely surprised.
  83. I mean, instead of getting
    an eviction notice,
  84. we got another data point.
  85. And in the back alley of this image,
  86. what you see here, this hidden beehive,
  87. that beehive produced
    more honey that first year
  88. than we had ever experienced
    in any beehive we had managed.
  89. Over a hundred pounds of honey
    that one year alone.
  90. We didn't know what to do with it.
  91. I mean, we were filling up
    pickle jars with the stuff.
  92. And since honey is the only food
    that never goes bad,
  93. the residents and tenants
    in the community
  94. are still enjoying that honey today.
  95. It shifted our research
    perspective forever.
  96. It changed our research question away
  97. from how do we save
    the dead and dying bees
  98. to where are bees doing best.
  99. And we started to be able
    to put maps together,
  100. looking at all of these
    citizen science beehives
  101. from people who had beehives
    at home decks, gardens, business rooftops.
  102. And we started to engage the public,
  103. and the more people who got
    these little data points,
  104. the more accurate our maps became.
  105. And so when you're sitting here thinking,
    "How can I get involved?",
  106. you might think about
    the story of my friend Fred,
  107. who's a commercial real estate developer
  108. and he was thinking the same thing.
  109. But even if you own a business,
    you can be a citizen scientist too.
  110. He was at a meeting
    thinking about what he could do
  111. for tenant relations
    and sustainability at scale.
  112. And while he was having a tea break,
  113. he put honey into his tea
    and noticed, on the honey jar,
  114. a message about corporate sustainability
    from the host company of that meeting
  115. and it sparked an idea.
  116. He came back to his office, an email,
    a phone call later, and boom!
  117. We went national together.
  118. We put dozens of beehives
    on the rooftops of their skyscrapers
  119. across nine cities nationwide.
  120. Nine years later -
  121. (Applause)
  122. Nine years later we have raised
    over a million dollars for bee research.
  123. We have a thousand beehives
    as little data points across the country,
  124. 18 states and counting,
  125. where we have created paying jobs
    for local beekeepers - 65 of them -
  126. to manage beehives
    in their own communities,
  127. to connect with people,
    everyday people who are now data points,
  128. together, making a difference.
  129. So, in order to explain
    what's actually been saving bees,
  130. where they're thriving,
  131. I need to first tell you
    what's been killing them.
  132. The top three killers of bees
    are agricultural chemicals,
  133. such as pesticides,
    herbicides, fungicides;
  134. diseases of bees, of which there are many;
  135. and habitat loss.
  136. So, what we did is we looked at our maps
  137. and we identified areas
    where bees were thriving,
  138. and this was mostly in cities, we found.
  139. Data are now showing
    that urban beehives produce more honey
  140. than rural beehives and suburban beehives.
  141. Urban beehives have a longer lifespan
    than rural and suburban beehives.
  142. And bees in the city are more biodiverse;
  143. there are more bee species in urban areas.
  144. (Laughter)
  145. Right?
  146. "Why is this?"
  147. That was our question.
  148. So, we started with these 3 killers
    of bees and we flipped it.
  149. Which of these is different in the cities?
  150. So, the first one: Pesticides.
  151. We partnered up with the
    Harvard School of Public Health.
  152. We shared our data with them,
    we collected samples
  153. from our citizen science beehives
    at people's homes and business rooftops.
  154. And we looked at pesticides levels
  155. and we thought there'd be less pesticides
    in areas where bees are doing better.
  156. That's not the case.
  157. What we found here in our study
    is that the orange bars are Boston,
  158. and we thought those bars
    would be the lowest,
  159. there would be the lowest level
    of pesticides and, in fact,
  160. there are the most
    pesticides in the cities.
  161. So, the pesticide hypothesis
    for what saving bees,
  162. less pesticides in cities,

  163. is not it.
  164. And this is very typical
    of my life as a scientist.
  165. Any time I've had a hypothesis,
  166. not only is it not supported,
    but the opposite is true.
  167. (Laughter)
  168. Which is still
    an interesting finding, right?
  169. We moved on.
  170. The disease hypothesis.
  171. We looked at diseases
    all over our beehives
  172. and what we found in similar study
    to this one with the North Carolina State:
  173. There's no difference between disease and
    bees in urban, suburban and rural areas,
  174. diseases are everywhere;
    bees are sick and dying.
  175. In fact, there were more
    diseases of bees in cities.
  176. This was from Raleigh, North Carolina.
  177. So again, my hypothesis
    was not supported,
  178. the opposite was true.
  179. We're moving on.
  180. (Laughter)
  181. The habitat hypothesis.
  182. This said that areas where bees
    are thriving have a better habitat.
  183. More flowers, right?
  184. But we didn't know how to test this.
  185. So, I had a really interesting meeting
    and an idea sparked
  186. with my friend and colleague,
    Anne Madden, fellow TED speaker,
  187. and we thought about genomics,
    kind of like AncestryDNA or 23andMe -
  188. Have you done these?
  189. You know, you spit in the tube
    and you find out, "I'm German," right?
  190. (Laughter)
  191. We developed this for honey, right?
  192. And so we have a sample of honey
  193. and we look at all the plant DNA
    and we find out, "I'm Sumac."
  194. (Laughter)
  195. And that's what we found here
    in Provincetown,
  196. and so, for the first time ever
    I'm able to report to you
  197. what type of honey is from right here
    in our own community.
  198. Honey DNA, a genomics test.
  199. Spring honey in Provincetown
    is from Privet.
  200. What's Privet?
  201. Hedges.
  202. What's the message?
  203. Don't trim your hedges to save the bees.
  204. (Laughter)
  205. Right?
  206. I know we're getting crunchy here,
    and it's controversial,
  207. so before you throw your tomatoes,
  208. let's move to the summer honey,
    which is water-lily honey.
  209. If you have honey from Provincetown,
    right here in the summer,
  210. you're eating water-lily juice.
  211. In the fall, sumac honey.
  212. We're learning about our food
    for the first time ever
  213. and now we are able to report,
    if you need to do any city planning,
  214. what are good things to plant,
  215. what do we know the bees are going to
    that's good for your garden.
  216. What's more interesting for us
    is deeper in the data.
  217. So, if you are from the Caribbean
    and you want to explore your heritage -
  218. Bahamian honey is from the Laurel family;
    cinnamon and avocado flavors.
  219. But what's more interesting
    is 85 different plant species

  220. in one teaspoon of honey.
  221. That's the measure that we want.
  222. The big data.
  223. Indian honey.
  224. That is oak.
  225. Every sample we tested from India is oak
  226. and that's a 172 different flavours
    in one taste of Indian honey.
  227. Provincetown honey goes
    from a 116 plants in the spring
  228. to over 200 plants in the summer.
  229. These are the numbers that we need
    to test the habitat hypothesis
  230. in another citizen science approach.
  231. You find out about your food
    and we get some interesting data.
  232. So, we're finding out now
    that in rural areas
  233. there are a 150 plants on average
    in a sample of honey.
  234. That's a measure for rural.
  235. Suburban areas, what might you think?
  236. Do they have less or more plants
    in suburban areas with lawns -
  237. that look nice for people
    but they're terrible for pollinators?
  238. Suburbs have very low plant diversity,
  239. so if you have a beautiful lawn,
  240. well, good for you, but you can do more.
  241. You can have a patch of your lawn
    that's a wildflower medow
  242. to diversify your habitat
    to improve pollinator health.
  243. Anybody can do this.
  244. Urban areas have the most habitat.
  245. The best habitat they have -
  246. As you can see here,
    over 200 different plants.
  247. We have, for the first time ever,
    support for the habitat hypothesis.
  248. We also now know
    how we can work with cities.
  249. The city of Boston has eight times
    better habitat than its nearby suburbs.
  250. And so when we work with governments,
    we can scale this.
  251. You might think on my tombstone it'll say,
    "Here lies Noah, plant a flower," right?
  252. (Laughter)
  253. It's exhausting after all of this, right?
  254. But when we scale together,
  255. when we go to governments
    and city planners -
  256. Like, in Boston, the honey
    is mostly Linden trees,
  257. and we say, "If a dead tree needs
    to be replaced, consider Linden."
  258. So, when we take this information
    to governments, we can do amazing things.
  259. This is a rooftop from Fred's company.
  260. We can plant those things
    on top of rooftops worldwide
  261. to start restoring habitat
    and securing food systems.
  262. We've worked with the World Bank,
  263. and the presidential delegation
    from the country of Haiti.
  264. We've worked with wonderful graduate
    students at Yale University in Ethiopia,
  265. and in these countries we can add value
    to their honey by identifying what it is,
  266. but informing the people
    of what to plant to restore their habitats
  267. and secure their food systems.
  268. But what I think is even more important
    is when we think about natural disasters.
  269. For the first time, we now know
    how we can have a baseline measure
  270. of any habitat before
    it might be destroyed.
  271. Think about your hometown.
  272. What risks does
    the environment pose to it?
  273. This is how we're going to save
    Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
  274. We now have a baseline measure of honey,
  275. honey DNA from before and after the storm.
  276. We started in Humacao.
  277. This is right where
    Hurricane Maria made landfall.
  278. And we know what plants to replace,
    and in what quantity and where,
  279. by triangulating honey DNA samples.
  280. You might even think about right here,
    the beautiful land that connected us,
  281. that primed all the
    citizen science to begin with.
  282. The erosion, the winter storms
    that are getting more violent every year.
  283. What are we going to do about this,
    our precious land?
  284. While looking at honey DNA,
  285. we can see what plants
    are good for pollinators
  286. that have deep roots
    that can secure the land.
  287. And together, everybody can participate
    and the solution fits in a teaspoon.
  288. If your hometown might get swept away
    or destroyed by a natural disaster,
  289. we now have a blueprint suspended in time
    for how to restore that on Earth,
  290. or perhaps even in a greenhouse on Mars.
  291. I know it sounds crazy,
    but think about this,
  292. a new Provincetown,
  293. a new hometown,
  294. a place that might be familiar
  295. that's also good for pollinators
    for a stable food system,
  296. when we're thinking about the future.
  297. Now, together we know what's saving bees:
  298. By planting diverse habitats.
  299. We know how bees are going to save us:
  300. By being barometers
    for environmental health,
  301. by being blueprints,
    sources of information,
  302. little data factories, suspended in time.
  303. And now you all know exactly
    what you can do as citizen scientists
  304. to get beehives.
  305. Thank you.
  306. (Applause)